The Latest Date of a Stanley Cup Champion
NHL News

The Latest Date of a Stanley Cup Champion

The unprecedented 2019-2020 NHL season will restart sometime this summer, with the Stanley Cup finals taking place later than ever. There's no specific date that the league will return to action, but a 24-team playoff season is likely to occur.

Previous Stanley Cup delays have pushed the latest date of a Stanley Cup champion into the summer during labour disputes between owners and players - not a killer virus.

stanley cup summer

NHL Schedule Changed through time

The NHL used to be exclusively a winter affair, but as pro hockey expanded from the original six NHL to the premier professional hockey league in the world, the Stanley Cup playoffs migrated into spring and closer to summer. 

Between 1910 and 1926, the Stanley Cup was awarded in March, with the season beginning between November and January.

When the number of regular-season games expanded to 44 in 1926, the Stanley Cup was pushed back to mid-April until the mid-1960s.

By the time the 1970s rolled around, the schedule for the regular season was 78 games, pushing the finals into mid-May.

Stanley Cup Finals

When Gretzky was traded to the Los Angeles Kings, hockey boomed in the United States, especially with the proliferation of teams in Northern and Southern California – areas not typically known as hockey towns. It’s not a coincidence that the NHL regular season schedule ballooned as high as 84 games in the 1990s, with the Stanley Cup playoffs occasionally pushing into the beginning of Summer.

As such, professional hockey in summer isn’t unheard of in the NHL, so pushing the restart schedule to late July or August is something that the entire hockey community can embrace. A slow return to training camps looks ready to begin on July 1st tentatively, with the remaining details to be hammered out in the meantime.

June 24th was the latest date that the Stanley Cup was awarded prior to 2020, with the 1995 and 2013 cup awarded in summer. Both of these seasons featured labour strife that forced the league to compress the schedule and push the playoffs into summer.

Unless this season is completely cancelled, an outcome that many want to avoid, the 2020 season will be the latest that the cup has ever been awarded.

Stanley Cup Playoffs 2020

How Will the Stanley Cup Playoffs Work in 2020?

So far, the league and the NHL player’s association have agreed to return to NHL hockey with a modified schedule that will focus on teams that were within striking distance of the playoffs. A total of 24 clubs will compete, with lottery teams excluded from competition until next season. The remaining teams will compete throughout the summer for the Stanley Cup.

The qualifying round of the playoffs will feature a play-in round robin. The two top teams from each division will earn a bye from qualifications, with seeds 5 through 12 facing off in a best of five to punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup playoffs. The exact seedings and path forward have yet to be determined, the four winners of each series will meet up with the teams with qualification byes.

This is a unique way that the playoff bracket will be determined. Interestingly, since major sports leagues want to make sure that fans and teams stay engaged throughout the regular season and playoffs, a play-in round could turn into a regular occasion if the format creates a ton of excitement in 2020. Cutting the regular season short, perhaps to 78 games again, would create the minimum schedule space required for a play-in to the playoffs.

After this qualifying battle, the playoffs will return to a regular seven-game series format. There’s no such thing as an easy playoff win, but this year will be unusually grinding, with the cup winner potentially needed to play five playoff rounds to win the championship. On the other hand, rust has to be a significant concern for teams with a first-round bye. After months of inactivity, revving your engine to maximum intensity will prove to be difficult for a few teams.

NHL Playoffs 2020

The Least Predictable Stanley Cup Playoffs in History

Hockey is already a game that involves a bit of luck in terms of teams needing a few fortuitous bounces to win the Stanley Cup playoffs. The COVID-19 pandemic forcing a long pause in action will only increase the unpredictability of the 2020 playoffs. Consider the fact that the 2019 Stanley Cup-winning St. Louis Blues were last in the league on New Year’s Day 2019 before rallying to lift the franchise’s first championship.

For some fans, this will be a major point of contention, especially when rooting for teams that were on a roll before the pandemic hit. For other fans, this provides an outstanding opportunity for their favourite team to put a difficult regular season behind them and focus on the playoffs. In fact, a team like the Montreal Canadiens or Florida Panthers could ride a hot goalie all the way to the finals, despite entering the playoffs as the 12th and 10th seed in the east, respectively.

Betting on Stanley Cup futures in 2020 is likely to produce some pleasant surprise wins throughout the entire playoffs bracket. Putting your money behind teams that have a high ceiling, but didn’t play well during the regular season will be a popular strategy for hockey fans looking to find excellent value. Teams like the Winnipeg Jets and Toronto Maples Leafs, a pair of clubs with outstanding talent who struggled in 2020, could very well shock the hockey world by bringing the Stanley Cup back to Canada.

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